We had limited our initial adventure to five days to ensure we would be back in Santa Cruz by the weekend. For us, this trip was taking place over summer vacation — but in Bolivia and most of South America, July and August are wintertime. School is in session, people are working, and it’s not easy for far-flung family and friends to get together with us during the week. So weekends are a must.
For Bolivians, this would be a three-day weekend celebrating 6 de Agosto — the dia de la patria or independence day — so our family was planning get-togethers and parties.
We woke up at Hotel Nobleza in Potosí, ready to face a final day of travel to get back to Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Breakfast at the hotel was simple and light, but the lady serving it was very attentive. Unfortunately none of the hotel staff could get the heater in the comedor to work, but some hot coffee did wonders.
The wake-up call came very early — 4:30 a.m. — for the final day of our tour. We ate a simple and quick breakfast, used the bathroom, then headed to the 4×4.
Jafet took us to a place near the Sol de Mañana geysers to watch the sunrise. The landscape was very Mars-like: red and orange dirt, small rocks, and distant mountains. The stars were still out, and gold-and-pink glow began rising over the mountains on the horizon. This, Jafet said, was the highest point we would reach on the tour: 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) above sea level. Down the road we could make out the tops of the vapor streams of the geysers.
The second day of our tour started a little before 6 a.m. I went outside to take some sunrise photos, then we ate a quick, simple breakfast, and got underway before 7. We knew there would be a lot of driving through barren landscapes, punctuated with stops to see volcanos and lagoons.
In the morning, Yoli and I headed to Avenida Ferroviaria to find a tour company.
I had researched tours online before our trip, and was leaning toward either Salty Desert Aventours, Lonely Planet’s top recommendation, or Skyline Traveller, which had a good Facebook presence and many nice reviews. After visiting the offices of both companies and asking a bunch of questions, we chose Salty Desert. We paid them 5,400 Bs for a private tour for five people with a Spanish-speaking guide. (This was 200 Bs lower than they quoted me online before the trip). This included meals and accommodations, but didn’t cover entrance fees and taxes we had to pay to enter certain sites and national reserves.
Our goal for Day 2 of our Bolivia trip was to get from Santa Cruz in the lowlands up to the town of Uyuni in the altiplano. From there, we would set out a three-day adventure on the great Salar de Uyuni, a vast salt flat, and nearby deserts. Yoli and I had previously visited the salar on a one-day tour as part of our epic trip across Bolivia’s altiplano cities about 18 years ago.
But this time would be different. We were bringing the whole family, taking a three-day tour, and coming during the dry winter season, rather than the wet summer season.
It’s been a few years since our last full-family Bolivian adventure. But we’re back!
From the beginning, we knew this journey would be quite different from the others we’ve made here. In the years since our last full-family trip …
We lost our oldest daughter, Jadzia, as well as Yoli’s dad, Don Hector
We gained new family members, including Melany’s husband, Ariel; and their son, Adrian.
American Airlines stopped flying to Bolivia
Santa Cruz has kept modernizing, changing some of the old patterns we were familiar with.
Since our children are now old enough to really remember this trip — and Ludi will be finishing high school before we know it — we thought now was the time to try taking a big adventure outside of Santa Cruz. We had to scale back our early ambitions of touring several cities in the altiplano, and instead we settled on taking a three-day tour in the Salar de Uyuni and its surrounding deserts.
In the past, I have often tried to blog in real time during our trips. That hasn’t really worked out this time. We’ve had little or no internet access for most of the first 10 days of the trip.
Instead, over the next few days I plan to share a retrospective account of our Uyuni trip, and then give a few updates later about our time in Santa Cruz visiting friends and family.
Our plane trip to Miami went well for the most part. Of course there was the requisite waiting in various lines for lengthy periods of time. But one thing was very different: we got to walk on the tarmac and climb the stairs to get into the airplane, like they used to do in the old days. I guess something was wrong with the jetway. However, before I could get to the tarmac, I was informed I had been selected for extra screening. So Yoli and the kids walked on, while I stayed behind to take my shoes off and let a security person swab my clothes and luggages checking for contraband substances.